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October 20, 2022
Ruderman Family Foundation recognizes productions for their commitment to inclusive and authentic casting, including “Star Trek” for its first main cast actor who is legally blind.
“Cha Cha Real Smooth,” a comedy-drama film that has been garnering national attention for its authenticity, is among the five productions honored today by the Ruderman Family Foundation for practicing the inclusion and authentic representation of people with disabilities in the entertainment industry.
Vanessa Burghardt, an actor with autism, stars in the movie as Lola, a character with the same disability who struggles to fit in with other children. The film, distributed by Apple TV+, has been widely praised for its characters’ human and genuine interactions as well as their authentic dialogue.
“From the moment the film’s creator, Cooper Raiff, saw Vanessa’s audition, he knew instantly that she was our Lola. No one could deny her talent but authenticity was important to everyone, so Cooper changed the script to age up the character and that was the end of it. Looking back, I cannot imagine another person playing Lola,” said producer of the film, Jessica Switch. “Vanessa was perfect. She was extremely professional and sweet on set. She nailed every take and always came prepared. She also brought her personal experience to the character. The headphones that she wears in the movie are her own headphones, and similar to the character, Vanessa uses them as a source of comfort and security. Receiving the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Seal of Authentic Representation for Vanessa’s work in Cha Cha Real Smooth is an incredible honor and we are so grateful that fans of the film were as touched by Vanessa’s performance as we were.”
The movie’s breakout teenage star, Burghardt, commented herself on the production’s authenticity, stating: “Everyone involved was so committed to making sure that Lola’s experience as an autistic character was accurate and I always felt like my input mattered. As an autistic actor, I really do have a lot to say and want to be a part of other people’s stories. I feel like authentic casting is so important because it gives me the opportunity to do that.”
The Foundation’s Seal of Authentic Representation award recognizes films and television series whose casting decisions demonstrate a commitment toward full inclusiveness in popular culture. The current group of honorees includes:
“The latest group of studio productions to receive our Seal of Authentic Representation have once again proven that practicing inclusive casting and authentic representation is not only a principled, morally sound choice, but a significant contributing factor to a production’s actual success,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “This is highly evident through ‘Cha Cha Real Smooth,’ whose authenticity has driven the film’s critical acclaim. We hope that such outcomes encourage Hollywood to continue expanding opportunities for people with disabilities, particularly in roles that portray the same disabilities.”
Lauren “Lolo” Spencer, cast member of “Sex Lives of College Girls,” said: “Thank you to the Ruderman Family Foundation for this wonderful honor! It is such a pleasure to be able to play the role of Jocelyn on ‘Sex Lives of College Girls.’ Her authenticity and intentional focus on her humanity was the exact reason for wanting to be Jocelyn. Seeing a character like her on screen is a dream come true, especially for the young women with disabilities. Jocelyn is now a representation of a free, fun, and sexy person regardless of ability. I could only hope her presence on screen encourages others to be their full selves regardless of what society’s limiting beliefs have to say about it. Thank you again.”
Additionally, Elizabeth Barnes, casting director for “Sex Lives of College Girls,” commended Spencer’s role in the movie, stating: “I was thrilled to pick up the pilot script and read Mindy and Justin’s description of Jocelyn, “a stylish & hip girl who uses a wheelchair, is huge on TikTok, and runs a fake ID business out of her dorm room.” I’d just seen Lolo Spencer’s assured, dynamic performance in “Give Me Liberty” and she brought that same bold, confident style to the role of Jocelyn. Mindy, Justin & line producer Bonnie Muñoz prioritized inclusion, representation and accommodation from concept through execution. When the stage is set appropriately, all actors have a chance to shine.”
Bruce Horak, cast member of the “Star Trek” spinoff “Strange New Worlds,” said: “Seeing oneself represented in the media in a positive light can be a source of great inspiration, and can help to break down barriers to a creatively fulfilling life. Even before the series officially aired, fans with disabilities from around the world have reached out to express their excitement at seeing a disabled person in a prominent role in the franchise. That there is a place for everyone and that we are truly stronger together is the influence of Gene Roddenberry’s vision. If my own journey can help to propel a burgeoning young artist to reach for their dreams, I would consider it a job well done.”
“Color My World with Love” cast member Lily D. Moore, noted the progress being made but challenged the industry to continue down a patch that sees increased opportunities for authentic casting. “I was thrilled to get the opportunity to be cast as the lead in a movie that acknowledged my Down Syndrome but did not limit me because of it. I feel that progress is being made but there is still work to be done. Many of the roles are minor or seat fillers. I encourage the industry to look carefully at people who are great actors, who also have disabilities. It means a lot to me as a person with Down Syndrome to play a lead in a movie that shows Down Syndrome people living a regular life. Thank you again, I feel honored to receive the Foundation’s Seal of Authentic Representation.”
Moore’s co-star on “Color My World with Love,” David DeSanctis said, “What a wonderful accolade to all of us with different abilities! Heartfelt thanks to you for your awareness and support. I’m honored to have had a small part in bringing awareness of our capabilities to the general population. Kudos to Hallmark for giving me that chance. Thank you, Ruderman Family Foundation, for making a difference in our world.”
Danielle Aufiero and Amber Horn, casting directors for the Apple TV+ series “Best Foot Forward,” said, “The moment we first met Logan Marmino over Zoom, he had us all smiling. Logan was very quick to learn and take new direction, and he is also a great leader. When we did Zoom chemistry read auditions, Logan was really great at making the other kids feel welcome. We think it is very important for everyone to see themselves represented in television and film. We especially feel strong that kids should be able to see someone on television that is similar to them.”
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